Although there’s no shortage of people in Texas planning to get into the hemp industry, many of them have serious concerns about how it will be regulated. There is no regulation right now because it’s been illegal to grow hemp in Texas for almost 100 years.
But last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp – the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana – for fiber and CBD. Ever since, the Texas Department of Agriculture has been formulating regulations for the revived crop.
Farmers had a chance to weigh in on those rules at a public hearing in Waco on Wednesday, and one of the main points of contention was how the plant’s THC levels will be tested. If a plant contains more than 0.3% THC, it’s considered marijuana and must be destroyed. But some people, like Hondo tomato farmer Kevin Calloway, said the figure is too low. He argued the rule will cause lots of growers to lose crops and money.
“Texas is hot, dry and windy,” he said. “All of those are stressors; hemp produces high THC levels when stressed.”
Calloway had considered growing hemp, but then decided against it. He said that it’s too risky under the current rules.
“You just can’t be a pragmatic farmer and risk taking your farm to the casino,” he said.
Others urged the Texas Department of Agriculture to eliminate barriers to entry into the hemp business, such as letting farmers apply for licenses as soon as possible and extending the amount of time between harvest and THC testing. Right now, farmers must harvest their crop within 15 days of the testing. Candis Dyer of Fort Worth said that’s not enough time.
“It takes at least that to dry it out if it rains,” Dyer said.
And with many farmers harvesting around the same time, the state’s approved testing labs may also struggle to keep up.
Some farmers bemoaned the fact that Texas does not have a certified seed program yet – meaning it’s harder to verify the quality and composition of seeds before buying them. According to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, comments from the meeting will help his department draft the final version of the rules.
“We have some tweaking and tuning to do. I had some really good comments in there, and we’ll go through those, our legal team will go through them, and I think we’ll have a good program, so I appreciate the input,” Miller told Texas Standard after the hearing.
The rules are also available for public comment online until Feb. 10. Miller said he hopes the agency will start issuing licenses to grow hemp by mid-March, so growers don’t miss the spring planting season.